My admiration for Michael Caine is so immense that this awkward bit of unpleasant memory does not diminish it. The 1980s were the prime era of sex comedies featuring frequent nude shots of young women in order to bring in the audience. Of course that type of thing had been done before, but usually in a drive-in “B” picture that would remain obscure after it was out of the passion pits. This was a major release, starring well know adult actors, and it was advertised and marketed like any other straight comedy of the day. As it turns out, this was a remake of a French farce from the seventies, relocated from the beaches of the Riviera to Rio de Janeiro. Now I’m not a prude, and the marketing clearly worked at getting me in the theater, but the subject matter and execution make it less frothy and naughty and more creepy and sour.
Two middle aged men, played by Caine and Joseph Bologna, travel to Rio for a vacation and take their teen daughters with them. The mood of the city takes over and the next thing you know, Caine’s “Uncle Matthew” is having a fling with his best friends nubile daughter. If that sounds a little tacky, get ready to be impressed because there is more tackiness to come.
This is a bedroom farce that plays a little fast and loose with relationships and drama. I can’t say how the original “One Wild Moment [In a Wild Moment]” played but it must have been made with a lighter touch to justify an American Remake. Some things in the movie are just so heavy handed that there is no joyful subtlety. Take for instance the introduction of the nudity. When the men wander down to the beach to catch up with the girls after they first arrive, nearly every woman on the beach is topless.
The sequence stretches across the sand for several seconds and numerous lovely young women march by displaying their upper anatomy for the old guys to ogle and make jokes about. This is a dream picture for teens without access to the ubiquitous pornography of the present day but it it so obvious that this was the intent. So that’s what makes it a little sticky to start with. It does not take a lot of imagination to guess what the comic payoff of this sequence will be. As the two men spot their daughters at a fruit stand and call out to them, the girls turn and approach, demonstrating that they are clearly in the spirit of Rio.
Now imagine that you are having a conversation with your beautiful young daughter and her friend and they are essentially naked in front of you. This is where the idea gets dicey. You want this to be sexy, but is it sexy if you get aroused by your own child or is it a little sick? This is the trouble with the concept, The cute girl with the avaricious sexual appetite keeps calling Michael Caine “Uncle Matthew”. It is inherent in the story and the joke but it is also basically awful to contemplate to begin with (Unless you are Woody Allen). By the way, the beaches in Rio at the time were not “top optional”. I don’t know what the penalty was for violating the Rio beach code, maybe it was having to watch this movie with your family.
The movie is a farce, so we are not really supposed to take any of this seriously, but there are serious elements to the story. Caine keeps reminding Jennifer (a very young Michelle Johnson), that her father is his best friend. They keep their affair secret for a period of time and the double takes, rolled eyes and awkward cover up sentences surround us for that period of time. Bologna finds his daughter’s journal and learns that she is seeing an older man and that their romance started in Rio. He becomes obsessed with finding the older guy and enlists his buddy Matthew in the search. This is the mistaken identity second act. They follow her around, they brace a couple of local performers that Bologna thinks could be the guy, all the while his pal is trying to talk him off the ledge and run interference. There are a few pieces of humor here that amuse because they don’t involve the immediate prospect of seeing a middle age man getting tongued by a teen age girl. It is also the section of the movie where slapstick creeps in and makes the film less adult comedy and more circus clowning. Caine looks uncomfortable during the whole film, Bologna actually sells the role by overplaying. He knows it is basically a TV skit stretched to a feature so he gives it the right tone for the fluff that it is supposed to be.
Inevitably, the truth comes out and the third act kicks in. There is resentment and guilt and a lot more tomfoolery to try to get us to laugh. The idea of watching Caine in his briefs and Bologna in his pajamas wrestle is not sad enough. They add a embarrassing bit of peek a boo with the maid who does not speak except with her eyes that say volumes
. Now one of the things I haven’t mentioned yet is that Caine’s daughter on this trip is played by Demi Moore. It was a little unusual from the perspective of history to realize that Michael Caine actually shows more skin than she does in this film. At times it appears that there is a good deal of tension between Father and Daughter, she acts as if he has been fooling around in the past. Several moments in the film suggest that this is actually the first time that Matthew has wandered off the reservation so maybe his daughter is peeved about something else. In trying to resolve the conflict, she calls in her mother who is conveniently been vacationing at a Club Med resort elsewhere, trying to decide if she still loves her husband. Valerie Harper returns to the movie after the two minutes she had at the start, to add a couple more wrinkles to the plot and try to find a way to wind this whole mess up. Harper was a TV star who made a few movies and is best remembered for her role as Rhoda in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She and Bologna seem to know how to play this stuff while Caine is mostly embarrassed and trapped behind the biggest pair of 80’s style men’s eyeglasses you are likely to find.
Rest assured that everything gets resolved if not in an entirely tasteful manner and that everyone except director Stanley Donen went on to better work. The man who made “Singing in the Rain”(along with Gene Kelly), “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” “Charade” and many other wonderful films, finished his theatrical career on this sour note. He himself said that the shooting regulations in Rio made the experience horrendous. Although he still survives and is in talks to direct a new film, I’ll prefer to remember him doing a little dance with his honorary Oscar in 1998 as he accepted the award on the national broadcast.
I saw “Blame it on Rio” when it opened, but I was pretty close to being alone. My re-watch was a DVD from a discount four pack including “Easy Money”, “Throw Momma from the Train” and “The Woman in Red”. It made about three and a half million on opening weekend, actually increased from position 4 to 2 the second weekend, and dropped off the charts with a relatively mild $18 million dollar take, most of which probably came from guys anxious to see what a topless beach looks like, rather than looking for a great Michael Caine performance. They got what they wanted.